Last week, I got my life when New York Times best-selling author (and friend) Janet Mock appeared on “The Breakfast Club.” She discussed her most recent memoir, “Surpassing Certainty,” and gracefully shared her story of living as a bold, bad-ass Black trans woman—despite having to wade through invasive and problematic questioning by the hosts of the popular radio program.
Just a few days later, “The Breakfast Club” lived up to its tagline as “The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show” via an appearance by Lil Duval. About six minutes into the interview, host Charlamagne tha God asked the comedian about President Donald Trump’s recent banning of transgender people from the military. (Why would that even come up?)
The conversation quickly devolved into a line of questions about how Duval would react if he encountered a trans woman. Duval responded with, “This might sound messed up and I don’t care, but she [is] dying.” He half-heartedly tried to backtrack while Envy held up Mock’s book cover asking about whether he finds her attractive. Duval proceeds to misgender her and prop up the trope that trans women are constantly deceiving cisgender heterosexual men.
“The Breakfast Club” has been consistently rife with misogynoir and other problematic content for years, but this is a particularly low point. The truth is that trans people don’t exist simply as the punchlines in your jokes or in hypothetical fantasies of Black cis men. We have lives beyond these bigoted instances. Statements like Duval’s signal to other people that it is acceptable to physically harm, and murder, transgender people. The tangible consequence is that the world becomes much more dangerous and unsafe for us.
Though the Black community is not especially more transphobic than the general public, we have to reckon with how Black trans women’s murders are never taken as seriously or given the amount of attention directed to other deaths in our community. There is a particular responsibility that Black cis men have in our community to combat the violence that is inflicted us. Being a comedian doesn’t let you off the hook. Words carry weight and the deaths of trans people are no joke.
To be clear, this isn’t just about one instance with a C-list comedian. Transgender people are facing negative rhetoric and violence from all sides. As Charlamagne tha Ignorant brought up in the interview, the president of the United States has publicly described transgender people as “burdens” to society. Conservative politicians across the country are aggressively trying to pass laws to discriminate against trans people. Black trans folks like Eyricka King and Ky Peterson are suffering behind bars, yet remain largely absent from conversations about mass incarceration. And of the 15 trans people murdered in the United States this year, have mostly been Black.
All of these conditions speak to the triple jeopardy that Black trans women face at the intersections of our identities. Not only do we deal with being diminished by a White supremacist society, but also by our Black family. It is unconscionable when other marginalized people, who know what it feels like to be maligned within society, trivialize our experiences.
In light of this disgusting interview, Black trans women and our allies have resiliently sprung into action. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, founded by Elle Hearns, has crafted and shared a petition calling for its cancellation and a commitment to funding the work of Black trans women. Wear Your Mag Editor-in-Chief Ashlee M. Preston and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors fiercely protested one of Charlamagne’s appearances yesterday afternoon.
I have personally called for folks to show their support for trans folks by posting a video to their social media platforms declaring that #TransFolksAreNotJokes and others are committing to a complete boycott of the show, using the hashtag #BreakfastClubBoycott.
Trans people need cisgender people to hold each other accountable every step of the way. It is especially important that Black media platforms understand the weight that their content carries in our community. No matter where you are in understanding our experiences, you should at least understand the importance of empathy. Everyone must make an effort to shut down transphobia every time it rears its ugly head. Accountability is one of our greatest weapons and we all have the ability to wield it with power.
Raquel Willis is an activist and writer dedicated to elevating narratives and consciousness on intersectionality, particularly the experiences of transgender women of color.